I had planned on telling the tales of our summer journey in chronological order. Start with our, ahem, interesting international flight and end with some reflections on all we had learned and experienced and ate and ate. But there is one story that everyone keeps asking about. When someone loses a body part on vacation, I guess it piques interest. So to save the real suspense for future stories that don't involve feet (because ewww), this is how I lost one of my toenails in Italian paradise.
We had just finished a blissful week in the perfect rental home in Chianti. We had already conquered many boat rides in Venice and even a visit to a Murano glass factory (we are morons). We had survived a successful 3-hour drive to our new home for the week with no car sickness (a real feat after a week and a half of at least one person being grossly sick every time we hit the road). And I had managed to not get stung by the bee that had flown into my shirt and apparently camped out there for about 45 minutes when I opened my window to admire the sunflowers. (Dave also did not crash the car when I stretched my arms up and the little effer flew out and attacked his driving foot.) So, really life in Italy was feeling like a success all around.)
I was feeling great as we pulled up to our beautiful hotel in Punta Ala, a small beach town on the Tuscan Riviera. We happily unloaded our bags and children and Aunt Noelle who had been shoved in the third row amongst the snacks and games and strollers, and headed into a beautiful tiled lobby overlooking the port. We were offered prosecco which we had to politely decline as my children were already, umm, eager after being released from their automotive prison and had also been offered juice (accepted), and there was too much glass around for us to be off our game. And while the staff could not have been nicer as they checked us in and brought us to our rooms, we also couldn't help but notice that this hotel, listed as "child-friendly" in so many of the reviews I had read, was very quiet. Not just a little muted with a happy buzz of activity – dead quiet. Quiet enough to hear my own thoughts which is something I haven't heard since sperm hit egg. It unnerved me. No, it scared the crap out of me and my husband because quiet is not something our kids do well. Even their whisper is a full scream. One of my boys' favorite games in fact, is to shriek in blood-curdling pitches and compete for who can get their baby sister to match the volume. They all win. Always.
My husband noted the silence to one of the women who assisted us with check-in. "Ah yes," she said. "All of this town is quiet. Even during the busiest times. Isn't it lovely?" How does one say, "I'm sweating profusely with the discomfort of embarrassment to come," in Italian?
With many a reminder, many a look (you know the one) and a few bribes, we got our children operating at a volume that wasn't exactly quiet, but at least wouldn't make your ears bleed. In other words, the other guests surely knew we were there but we gave ourselves some leeway as we know from watching movies that being both American and from New Jersey allows, nay, requires us to be at least a little grating. So we were feeling ourselves! Look at us, world. All normally-volumed and shit.
Thus, all was going swimmingly on this beach leg of our odyssey. Until dinner, of course. Because with small children, there is no joy-killer more surefire than a seated dinner in a white tablecloth restaurant. Especially if it happens to be in the world's quietest hotel and dinner hours don't even begin until 8 pm which is the exact time my cherubs turn into hell beasts on the nightly.
If you're a parent reading this, details are unnecessary. You know there was whining. There was screaming. There was knife wielding. There were iPads with the volume too loud. ("Make the volume lower. Lower please. Still lower. I can still hear it. MAKE THE G.D. IPAD LOWER BEFORE I THROW IT OVER THIS RAILING INTO THE…Oh, sorry, hi! I'll have the salmon. Thank you so much!!") Thus, our party of 6 swiftly became a party of 3 plus high chair as my boys tapped out of the late European dinner and were settled into our room just 50 feet away from our restaurant table to snuggle in and allow YouTube Kids to rot their small brains.
But not really. Because while my husband feels fine with the arrangement, what I can not get out of my head is that story that I saw on Dateline or 20/20 or Unsolved Mysteries about that girl, or maybe a boy, who was stolen from her parents' hotel or house or tent in Aruba or Portugal or Maine. For some reason, my husband knows nothing of what I speak, but I am fairly sure that whatever I saw about whomever it was, wherever it was, was just a warning that in this very moment someone will steal my children from their beds as I'm just out of stabbing range. And so I carry baby girl with me to check on the boys every 3 minutes. Literally. EVERY.3.MINUTES. I can sense how annoying this is to my table mates, and servers, and to my daughter who has begun smacking me in the face and gesturing to the bread we leave behind each time we walk away from the table. So I make each visit quicker than the last. And it is in this rapidity of efficient overprotective parenting, as I run back through the patio to my waiting pasta, that I throw the heavy glass door shut just as my toe crosses the threshold.
The details are a bit fuzzy here. I know there was the blinding pain and the blood on my foot, and on the tiles, and on the sheets, and I know there was the surprised look on my childrens' faces when I began to scream, in the world's quietest hotel in which they had been mandated to speak in the quietest of indoor voices, a string of expletives that I wasn't even aware I knew. And when I am fully with it, I realize my husband is now in the room too (because of the dirty, dirty screams), my foul-mouthed 3 year-old is in absolute heaven with the new vocabulary he's just acquired from mommy, my toenail is more than half detached from my foot, and baby girl is still smacking me in the face because her love for carbs is real. My concerned husband offers to help me with the first-aid but, as I know his proclivity for feeling faint and loudly gagging when others around him shed bodily fluids (this made him super helpful during bouts of morning sickness), I decline his help with all but holding the baby who, obviously, refuses to go with him because she and I are Siamese twins.
"What happens of your beautiful, candlelit dinner?" you may be thinking. Well, the food, of course, hits the table just as the blood hits the floor of my hotel room, making our serving staff and my sister who is now seated at a table for six all alone, feel very uncomfortable and probably equally as irritated.
"Should we call your room and make them to come back and eat?" the server asks in his beautifully accented English. "No, no, " says my sister. I will text and ask if everything is ok. And she did. And it was. Mostly. If you don't count the blood. So I sent my husband back to finish his dinner and keep Noelle from looking like a loner weirdo and all was right again.
Until the next day when I was reminded of the following things: 1. Bandaids aren't well-made for holding toenails onto feet; 2. I was at a beach. Beaches are full of germy sand which very, very easily gets caked underneath toenails that aren't quite attached but not entirely covered by band-aids which are, again, inadequate for the needed task; 3. Blood blisters under nails are the kind of painful that make you want to say, "This is worse than childbirth," but then you remember childbirth and know that that would be a total lie but still this hurts really, really, really badly; 4. If you have an injury, that part of your body turns into a neon, sparkly, impossible-to-miss target for your children's every movement. They CAN NOT move a single limb on their bodies without stomping or hitting or touching or kicking your injury.
In this vein then, the next 4 days were not awesome. I mean, they were pretty fantastic in the sense that I was in one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen, the Tuscan Riviera, with my beloved family, eating the best food and playing and swimming and enjoying a cocktail whenever I damn well pleased, but I did have the misfortune of feeling like I was pushing a baby out of my toe every single time anything even brushed past my foot.
So I should have been relieved then when the blood blister finally broke and I could safely cut away the hanging nail and ease the pain. Except, when it did happen, what I felt was less like relief and more like "I hate my kids, I hate my life, I hate every decision I have ever made and I am running away from home." Because as it happens, the most painful sensation is not when you shut your toe in the door and the blister forms, it is when your 3-year old jumps off a chair without warning and his full weight forcefully lands on that blister. And the quietest place on earth is not the hotel with the guests who whisper and the staff who smiles warmly at your shouting children, it is a gelato shop with just two other (non-speaking) customers on the isle of Elba, so known for its isolation that is is literally the place that Napoleon was sent by France in order for him to die alone and unloved. And the most embarrassing screaming is not that of your children, but of their mother who hops out of her chair trailing blood behind her screaming, "I AM SO F*CKING DONE! I AM F*CKING DONE WITH THIS PAIN, I AM DONE WITH THIS F*CKING TRIP, I AM DONE WITH EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU F*CKING PEOPLE!" causing her 1- and 3-year olds to shriek wildly in utter terror that their mom has just quit their family. (The 4-year old saw the opportunity here to finish the gelato that everyone else forgot in the hubbub and was working his way around the table face deep in sugar and cream, so he was cool.) And the germiest place is not on the sand, it turns out, but on a dirty street where one may have to suddenly lie down as the pain of a lost toenail and the broken blood blister and the unforgiving heat and the last three hours of boat sickness (another story for another time) all came together in perfect, horrible, mother*cking harmony.
But, friends, all's well that ends well. Because we did somehow make it back to the hotel. My blister did drain and ease the intense and searing pain. My nail did get cut away allowing me to enjoy the beach without having to dig rocks out of my nailbed. And my 3-year old did pat himself on the back and allow me to thank him for "fixing" my boo-boo. (Thanks a TON, kid.) My family even allowed me to rejoin their ranks. There is a good possibility my toenail will never grow back I am told, but only the most interesting and seasoned people have real war wounds from the island where Napoleon died, so it may actually be worth it. Or maybe not. But if you talk trash about my missing toenail, I will find your number and text you very graphic images of this entire story, so you have to ask yourself if THAT is actually worth it. And trust me – it's not.